Humans of New York is one of the biggest blogs online. It provides a worldwide audience with daily glimpses into the lives of strangers on the streets of New York City. Over time, its success has expanded the blog to feature stories from over twenty different countries. And even spawned a few parody projects. Bots of New York is one of them. However, it’s so awesome, it deserves a spotlight of its own.
Bots of New York uses various machine-learning and computer vision programs to generate imaginary people. All the steps of image and caption generation are automated (outside of initial model training), and it’s lowkey one of the most advanced bots running online just for the heck of it.
The person behind the project calls themselves Botmin. They’re rather private and tend to avoid the press, so not much is known about the page. But the community around it really makes up for it. Not only do they eagerly discuss every new upload, but their comments also contribute to the ever-changing lore of the ‘show’. In fact, the people who follow Bots of New York are so engaged in it, you’d think they’re Botmin’s digital creations too. But they’re real. Probably.
The primary reason why Botmin created Bots of New York wasn’t mockery. “I started doing the bot to learn more about bots and advances in natural language generation,” they told “Then it started making me laugh pretty regularly so I kept doing it to entertain myself.”Eventually, the community started growing and making them laugh even more than the posts.”As for tech, its a bit complicated but the core of the caption generation is a natural language model called GPT-2. I use variations of the medium and large models, finetuned on the entire Humans of New York captions corpus, updated regularly,” Botmin explained.
The GPT-2 model (a successor to GPT) was trained to predict the next word in 40GB of Internet text. However, due to its developers’ concerns about malicious applications of the technology, they didn’t release the model to the public. As an experiment in responsible disclosure, they released a much smaller model for researchers like Botmin to experiment with. If you want to give this model a writing prompt, you can see how it is able to complete your text here.Coming back to Bots of New York, let’s just hope nobody will make them into actual humanoids. We already have too many soulless economists and clueless politicians.